Shook is an absolutely stellar musician who thrives in his authenticity. An electronica producer of incredible talent, his sound over the last nine years has changed forms in only the ways that a human can; organically and unexpectedly.
Over the course of a half dozen albums he's woven a consistent thread of glorious and often painful realness. The albums are not necessarily easy to listen to, as they act as mirrors of authenticity. If there's joy hiding inside you, you feel elated to the nth degree. However, if you have some lingering sadness you've been ignoring, it'll bubble up and over and you'll find yourself brought to tears. This is undeniably a strength of his, and it lends a timelessness to his albums in the sense that every new listen uncovers new feelings in your own world.
Jasper, the man behind Shook, has had an extraordinary journey that, once understood, lends much insight into his earnest efforts to show the world what's happening inside his heart. Soon after releasing "Continuum," a spacious, bombastic record, Shook went radio silent. We heard nothing from his camp until some months later when his fanbase received a heartfelt plea from his partner, Juliet, who informed us that Jasper was nearing death's door and had been in and out of the ICU for some months. Her request for thoughts and prayers nigh instantly unleashed a torrent of love for Jasper, the likes of which was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
Slowly Jasper recovered and soon he released a clouds-clearing album, Bicycle Ride, that felt like a triumphant return to the land of the living; expressing the simple pleasures in the sounds and smells of the outside world. I remember well the first time I heard "I Will Be There," the third song on the record, which features Juliet on vocals. I was wracked with sobs as I felt the tender love shared between the two, imagining the many nights spent apart as Jasper lay in a hospital bed, near to death and far from Juliet.
When asked about the inspiration for Shook's newest album, released just last month, titled Music for City and Nature, the importance of Juliet in his creative journey came even clearer:
Jasper: The reason why I made ‘Music for City and Nature’ was because I get caught up in the chaos around me in the city. There are so many impulses that I didn’t have when I was very ill, with Bicycle Ride, because I was still healing and everything was calm and relaxed.
Juliet: You were also very isolated in the hospital. The same room and same people every day. Then you got back home and there’s this whole world.
Jasper: In the city it has been very difficult for me to find calm in the chaos of daily life. But I always seem to find it when I bring Juliet to work. The museum she works at is in the middle of this big forest and it’s so calm there. We go very early in the morning and it’s very peaceful there. I get inspired by the calmness of the singing of the birds. I always go back and forth between these two ideas, chaos and calm.
This turmoil comes to head perfectly in the second song on the album, "Mind Up," featuring Juliet's vocals, who also directed the music video. The vacillation between partner and muse is a wonderful one, and it is well on display.
Abridged interview video here, full interview below.
Magnetic Magazine: How did you two meet?
Jasper: It was eight years ago, I think! We were out with friends in one of the towns where I grew up.
Juliet: You were talking about Batman and Robin. You said you hated Robin and I wanted to argue with you.
Jasper: Because you thought Robin was cool! Robin is kind of cool, but not in the 60’s era because he had underpants. The underpants Robin wasn’t very cool.
MM: How did the creative partnership develop?
Juliet: It kind of started growing naturally. I would hear Jasper making songs that he would want me to listen to. Then he would start making songs and he would say, "can you sing for this?" Well, it was more like…
Jasper: “You MUST sing on this!”
Juliet: Very forcefully.
Jasper: No, I’m not a dictator. Anyway, a lot of the times when I’m making a song or composing a melody I just miss a voice and the only voice I can imagine is YOUR voice. So I usually just shout to the other room “you have to hear this! Maybe you can write some words on the melody,” and this is how it usually goes, right?
Juliet: Yeah and for this new album I think we started to work together a little more. I had more creative freedom to put in my own thing into the song whereas before, he just told me what to do.
Jasper: For the song “Lullaby” [off the new album] you really wrote most of the lyrics. So we’re working together really well, I think.
MM: So do you think Shook is changing form?
Jasper: Is it changing form? I think its always changing form.
Juliet: Yes, since the beginning. Your music is so personal and as you grow and change as a person you can hear it.
Jasper: I don’t like to think in genres or anything. I want to progress and not do the same thing over and over again. It’s not very handy as a way of marketing music but it’s very important to keep things fresh for me.
MM: Jasper, now that Juliet has more involvement, do you find the experience of creating an album different from an emotionally expressive standpoint?
Jasper: I’ll have to think about that…
Juliet: I always try to keep away from his music creation process as much as I can. Like of course in an indirect way I always have SOME kind of influence, but I don’t try to force him to make any type of music.
MM: In what ways does the other positively benefit you in your quest for artistic expression?
Jasper: That’s easy because Juliet always says to me that I should be honest with myself and my emotions. Because if you keep too much to yourself and you can’t express it, they get locked up inside and it's not healthy. It’s not healthy for your heart, your head.
Juliet: Or your body even.
MM: What about you, Juliet?
Juliet: Jasper gives me a lot of freedom to do my own thing. With the video for “Mind Up” he gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do because I was very specific about it and he trusted me. Also, I’m very insecure and he has a lot of faith in me. He always tells me to just try things and see. Even if I don’t believe in myself he tells me that it will end up being good.
Jasper: Because you’re super talented!
MM: Speaking of the video for “Mind Up,” how did it come about?
Jasper: Actually it started a long time ago. In Holland we have a tradition called Sinterklaas. It’s the Dutch version of Santa Claus. It’s a very traditional holiday. We celebrate with family and sometimes we hand-make presents for each other. So Juliet created a head for me and it was so very creepy. This was maybe seven years ago. I kept it because I thought it was very inspiring. Although she told me to throw it out because she said it was old and ugly. So this was kind of the inspiration.
Juliet: It came out during the brainstorming for the video. We started with this idea and then I started drawing.
Jasper: Juliet was definitely the director.
MM: How did it feel to have her being the director in this way?
Jasper: Oh, we had a lot of arguments.
Juliet: Ohhh yeah, we fought a lot.
Jasper: But it’s not very nice to have arguments when you’re wearing the head. It’s pitch dark inside.
Juliet: I didn’t make any eye holes.
Jasper: I couldn’t see anything.
Juliet: It was also ridiculous arguing with someone who was wearing this big giant head.
MM: I can imagine just you guys getting into an argument and then Juliet leaving the room and then Jasper just yelling at a wall because he doesn't realize that you're not there anymore.
Juliet: Oh yeah, that happened actually. Also he would be dancing our choreography and not be facing the camera.
Jasper: So we built the set ourselves, with help from friends of course, and we were afraid the whole set would break down because I couldn’t see anything. I would bump into the walls and then I’d hear Juliet screaming “Don’t!!! Stop! Cut!” It was kind of funny.
MM: The set for the video was really very nice.
Juliet: It was nice. But I think it was messy in the best way. I didn’t want it to be completely perfect. I wanted it to look, well, handmade, so there are a lot of imperfections. I wanted it to have a sense of authenticity. This is also with the rest of [Jasper’s] work as well. All the music just needs to be authentic. Not always polished.
Jasper: It’s difficult to be authentic. I mean it’s the best way; you cannot be someone else. You can only be the best you, you can’t be a copy of someone else.
Juliet: I think it’s hard not to try and be a copy of yourself, even. When you start making things by repeating the way you did before without the same feeling or intention it gets turned into copying one’s self, which I feel is almost even worse than copying someone else.
MM: Do you ever find yourself struggling against that, Jasper?
Jasper: I used to when I was working with record companies and big management because they wanted me to go in a certain direction that I didn’t want to go.
Juliet: It’s also hard when you get a lot of appreciation for something that you do. You WANT to make people happy, especially Jasper. As an artist you just want to do something that gets appreciated. But then you also want to stay true to yourself so it’s tough trying to balance this.
MM: To that end, you’ve taken a few left turns with your style over your career. Do you feel the confidence at this point in making those leaps?
Jasper: I’m thinking about the artists who I like. The guys from Yellow Magic Orchestra. If you go through their discography, sometimes they released two albums in one year and they want all over the place in terms of style. You could see that they were searching for the boundaries of what they could do to express themselves. To push myself to search for these boundaries is inspiring to me. What new path can I take? I think the worst critic for me is myself, so it’s always very rewarding when I surprise myself in what I can do.